Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday that Israel would be taking a series of steps against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, starting with closing the Kerem Shalom crossing, in light of the continued launching of incendiary aerial devices toward southern Israel.
“We intend to immediately wield a heavy hand against Hamas,” Netanyahu told the Likud faction, vowing additional steps that he said he could not announce yet.
Kerem Shalom is the main commercial crossing into the Gaza Strip. The IDF announced that there would be no export or marketing of goods from the Gaza Strip – except for humanitarian supplies such as food and medicine which will have to be approved on an individual basis by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).
Video footage of the strike on a Hamas terror tunnel near the Kerem Shalom Crossing and terror sites in the Gaza Strip, May 29, 2018 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
In addition, the expansion over the last three months of the fishing water off the Gaza coast from six to nine nautical miles for the fishing season – which ends today – will not be extended, and the area will revert today to its original six miles.
The decision was made by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, after accepting the recommendations by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.
“The State of Israel wants and works to improve the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip in many ways,” the IDF said. “However, in light of the situation in which the Hamas terrorist organization exploits the residents of the Gaza Strip – and launches kites and explosive firebombs towards the communities surrounding the Gaza Strip and does not allow the continuation of the routine in the vicinity – these steps were taken.”
An estimated 7,000 acres have been burnt by aerial incendiary devices such as kites, balloons and condoms since March 30. The IDF warned on Monday that “if this trend persists, these measures will continue and even intensify.
“The Hamas terrorist organization is responsible for what is happening in the Gaza Strip, and its consequences. Hamas is dragging the residents of the Gaza Strip into an abyss, and the IDF will continue to act as necessary to preserve the security interests of the State of Israel,” the military added.
Hamas, which governs the enclave, said that “the occupying government’s endorsement of new measures to tighten the siege of the Gaza Strip is a crime that must be addressed immediately,” with Islamic Jihad calling the closure of the Kerem Shalom Crossing a “declaration of war” which “the resistance would have to respond to.”
Noting the four-year anniversary of the IDF’s Operation Protective Edge, Liberman issued a warning to Hamas.
Speaking at his Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting, Liberman said that Israel would no longer tolerate provocations at the Gaza border fence, or the setting of fires that burned land the size of the cities of Netanya or Rehovot.
“We are not looking for conflict or military adventures, but the conduct of Hamas is deteriorating the situation to the point that it might have to pay a much heavier price than it did in Protective Edge,” Liberman said, referring to the operation in which more than 1,000 Hamas terrorists were killed.
Earlier, opposition leaders challenged Netanyahu and Liberman to do more to stop incendiary kite and balloon attacks from Gaza.
“The South is on fire and no one is doing anything about it,” Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay said to his faction. “Netanyahu for a long time has not been Mr. Security but Mr. Microphone.”
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid called for the IDF to be given more leeway and a wider range of tools at its disposal to respond to the attacks.
“If Netanyahu had started dealing with the Gaza problem four years ago, there wouldn’t have been kites, balloons or burnt fields,” Lapid told his faction. “Had he been in the opposition he would be in the Gaza periphery. He hasn’t gone there because he doesn’t care. This is not how our security should be run.”